BLAIRSVILLE, GA – Board of Education and Pioneer RESA Facilities Specialist Doug Fields discussed upcoming facility needs for the school system and how to best spend entitlement funds by renovating, modernizing, or building a new structure.
Fields presented options based on full-time equivalency (FTE) and student projections for 2023. The 2017 FTE count for UCS was 2,732, and the state government calculated that by 2023, the schools could have 2,817 students.
He noted that the only two schools with “age” on them are the primary and elementary school, particularly the third-grade building.
“I remember some days in the third-grade building coming to play basketball in that arena, said Fields, “We’re defining adequate and that’s what you’re here for. You as a board have to work with your school system to determine what is adequate for you.”
The total eligible amount for earning entitlement is $4,118,878, but that’s not the total need. The actual cost is approximately upwards of $8M.
Currently, $1.3M is available from the state for Union County Schools (UCS) has $1.3M in entitlement funds from the state to use. It can only go toward eligible needs established by the state.
Union County Elementary School (UCES) quickly became the main focus of the entitlement funding conversation. It’s the oldest system in the system and topic of previous conversation.
The elementary school has $490,000 available in renovation money with $0 in modification due to the 2007 redo of roof and HVAC.
At the elementary school, 52 units are available according to FTE, but only 33 IUs earned from the state government.IUs represent classrooms needed according to the state. This includes the third-grade building as well as fourth and fifth building.
“One thing it doesn’t take into account is the special education students and Pre-K,” said Superintendent John Hill.
There aren’t any classrooms sitting empty. The state FTE projections don’t reflect special needs or grades below K-12.
UCS has three options renovation, total modernization, or close the building. DOE estimates a new building would make UCS eligible for $8M in funding through programs like advance funding.
A renovation would max out at $490,000 and include painting, ceiling tiles, electrical, doors, and windows.
“You basically put a new face on it,” said Fields, “You’re making it look much better. You’re not bringing it up to code, but you’re not changing the infrastructure, the plumping, any of the technology, or a lot of electrical.”
Facilities Director Chris Crow interjected about total modernization of the third-grade building, “We would unless there is a minor hang up, qualify for a total modernization of the third-grade building, and the state would provide approximately $90 per square foot. Now, if that is the right thing to do is another question.”
Only the third-grade building qualifies for total modernization. The fourth and fifth-grade building qualify for renovation. Additionally, they still need to ensure that third grade does meet requirements.
Crow also estimated renovating the two buildings and possibly primary would still be around $8M.
“If we’re already at $8M through entitlement money is it really worth it? Is it better just to take the state money and build new versus renovate?” asked Crow.
“Under the next SPLOST, we would want to look at doing updates to fourth and fifth grade. Its 25 years old now,” commented Crow, “It’s speculation, but you’re going to have a lot of money in it. If the price of labor and material keep doing what it’s doing, that’s when we’re really going to have to sit down and figure out, is it better to let the state pay for half of this new building or renovate it.”
Board Chair Cynthia Odom added, “The plumbing issues that we’ve got it’s not just replacing a toilet. It’s literally busting up concrete and to fix the infrastructure underneath.”
Crow agreed and fears the expense of bringing current plumping up to code.
The renovation takes place over a summer, but total modernization occurs over several years. Towns County’s currently in year three of total modernization. Additionally, the process requires an architect to come in and plan out all the updates to provide to the state.
“Where we’re going to house these kids?” asked Odom.
Fields didn’t believe the structure of the third-grade building would make it easy to move classrooms around.
“You look at the numbers on that 5,700 sq. ft. times $90 is $5.1M. The actual cost at $200 sq. ft., which is $11M,” input Hill.
Board member Keith Potts added, “That’s with us providing the $110, and the state’s only providing $90.”
Total modernization ties a school system to that building for 20 years. The state won’t provide any entitlement funds until 20 years later.
A new building would house second through fifth grade and half the money would come from a state reimbursement. The state would chip in around $8M for a new building, and it would probably cost around $11M.
“If we build a building that’s only the earned IUs, we’re not going to fit in it. We need to be real honest, just on top of the table right now. We won’t fit in the building,” stated Hill.
Replacing the elementary school would require site approval, and the biggest existing issue is the propane tank. The state would want to mitigate the risk in some way.
The concept floated around would utilize the rubber floor gym and be on the bank behind the bus garage. However, no definite plans or ideas are ready to go for new construction.
Also, the facilities in the area would have to move, such as the bus barn and maintenance building.
Before closing a building, public meetings must be held, and if deciding to close UCES and third-grade building, the board can’t go back.
The closure would bump up entitlement earnings up to approximately $1M a year from $300,000. Students could still attend class in those buildings until the new school opens.
Construction on a new building needs to begin three to five years after closing building.
Fields agreed to come back and answer more questions about facilities and options during a future work session. No decisions were made in this meeting about how to proceed.
FTE AND ENTITLEMENT FUNDS BREAKDOWN
At the primary school, the projection is 585 FTE with 52 available units with 40 earned IUs from the state government.
“I understand that most school systems have a building that has more IUs, which is classrooms than they have actually earned,” stated Fields.
The primary school also had a recent addition of 10 classrooms, which accounts for the extra classrooms.
At the middle school, 688 FTE projected with 43 IUs earned.
The high school FTE projection is 866 with 67 available and 48 IUs earned. The high school also recently built several classrooms on the third floor.
Woody Gap projected 69 students over the next couple of years.
The state guidelines for facilities only allow for needs, not wants to determine the allotment of the $300M in entitlement funding. UCS receives one-tenth of that sum.
The primary school currently qualifies for $588,000 in renovations with the main need being flooring and interior aspects.
The middle school has $504,000 in renovation money, but can’t draw the money until the building reaches 20 years of age. It also has $700,000 in modification funds for things like HVAC.
One school can apply another’s credit for a project but only up to the amount determined to be eligible. The only time one project can draw the entire $1.3M is when building a new structure.
Also, the state program works as a reimbursement program. After completion, the state sends the school system the money.
Renovation amount is calculated by $14,000 per earned IU.